The shape of things to come? Picture a PC potato

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The computer may be about to change shape. Compaq, the computer giant, believes that as bulky expansion cards - the circuit boards which allow a computer to provide high-quality sound or act as a fax, for example - are replaced by credit card-sized PC cards, the traditional shape of the computer will be abandoned. "We will make them more fun, more eye- appealing, more acceptable in the home environment," says John Rose, senior vice-president and general manager of Compaq's desktop computer division.

Most computers will in future look more like consumer electronics products such as stereos and VCRs, Mr Rose believes. But there is no reason why they cannot be altogether more interesting. Compaq has been carrying out market research studies, including one with a group of seven- and eight- year-old pupils who came up with the idea for "Mr PC Head".

As mocked up by Compaq, it features a small display with rounded speakers embedded on either side to look like "ears", a handle at the top that looks like a hat, a tilt-and-swivel base shaped like feet and a keyboard that looks like a doormat.

A group of teenagers, meanwhile, came up with a design concept that looked like a tall stereo stack with CD-Rom and computer display built into it. These ideas were well received by the US financial press when they were unveiled last November - causing a rise in Compaq stock prices. Despite this move into the home entertainment market, Mr Rose dismisses the notion that future home electronics purchases will pit the TV against the home computer and suggests instead that the two will co-exist and even work together.

"In a number of homes, there will be multiple computing devices," he says. "Some may use TV as the display mechanism, others may have their own display capability." But Compaq - unlike companies such as ICL, with its PCTV - does not believe televisions and computers will be integrated into a single unit. "If you look at the use of the PC, it's a one-on-one environment , not a one-on-many kind of thing like the TV," Mr Rose says. Watch the corner of your sitting room to see who is right.